Tips from the head chef
As ‘chef de commis’ in your own kitchen, you do not have the opportunity to spend long, training days as apprentice to a head chef, but here is some general advice that you would have been given if you had.
Start from the complexity of what you are about to prepare. If you are going to serve three dishes and all of them require constant adjustment, as well as last-second cooking, it will be stressful. Think strategically and plan instead: If the main dish is complex you can solve a lot of the logistics by serving a simpler starter such as a soup, which you prepared earlier in the day. Also, think through each dish like this: A potato gratin can manage itself in the oven, unlike raw fried potatoes. The last few moments in the kitchen can be intensive, but not stressful.
Too much food on the plate can have the adverse effect on the appetite. Plan what bowls (or will it look nicer in glasses, perhaps?), plates and cutlery will give the right impression.
Think outside the kitchen
Do not forget the environment in which the food will be served. Tinned ravioli in candlelight can deliver a greater experience than fillet of beef in fluorescent light.
Follow the seasons
Have you noticed that cold roast beef and potato salad in November just doesn’t taste the same as is does in the middle of summer? That a Venison stew with mushrooms tastes really heavy late in spring? That asparagus does not go well with January? Look out for the best raw material of the season when you plan your purchases and what you are going to serve. It is more delicious, cheaper and more environmentally friendly.
Plan the consumption
No one wants to seem stingy in front of their guests, but people serve up over large quantities of food, which is wasteful. Depending upon whether you are going to serve one or more dishes, count like this per person:
- 200 grams of potatoes, pasta, rice or other starch. This equals 2 average potatoes or 100 milliliters cooked rice.
- 120 to 200 grams of meat.
- 125 -150 grams filleted fish or about 250 grams whole fish. It is good to ask your fishmonger as different fish give different amounts of meat.
Clean and tidy
It should always be tidy and clean when you start cooking – anything else is unthinkable in a professional kitchen. Few things have as negative an impact on your cooking as the need to change trash bag when the fish is about to be fried or having to wash kitchen tools that were used earlier for lunch.
Mise en place
An excellent way to prepare is to create a ‘mise en place’, which is French for having everything in one place and close to hand. It is an elementary part of the preparation of all professional cooks and consists of:
- Gathering together all the stuff you plan to use – and measuring, peeling, chopping, slicing and placing foodstuffs and ingredients in small, clean bowls so that they can be used directly while cooking.
- Taking out all the tools, pots, pans, bowls, knives, mixer, etc, that will be used while cooking.
A working place that gradually gets dirtier and dirtier and cluttered with unwashed dishes finally becomes a barrier obstructing all work in the kitchen. Try instead to clean up as you move along with the cooking. There are always timeslots when you have time to clean dishes, dry them and put them back in their place. It does not have to be everything, but as much as you can. Spices, oils, butter and other packaged ingredients can easily be put back in their right places.
The end result will be a more enjoyable and easier working place, and a more beautiful kitchen exuding a more professional impression. Dirt and bacteria are kept under control and you don’t have to clean tools with dried up leftovers.
"If you haven't got the basics in place, then you don't know what you are doing."
– Christoph Buchet, Sjögräs